Conversations vs. Controversies

In my previous post, I wrote about the Canon with the Canon. If you haven’t read that post, read it before you jump into this one.

Ok, so you’ve read it, right? Cuz I’m going to move forward with that assumption. So, let’s go.

Just a few minutes ago, I read an article that looked at how the Christian Church, the Stone-Campbell tradition I am a part of, handles questions of what matters most. And the author made the point that, in the Church, we often handle difficult issues with one of two extremes: 1) we avoid conversation, or 2) we treat what should be conversations as controversies. In other words, we take what is non-essential, and we make it essential. And we then refuse to talk about it, or we choose to fight about it.

All of this reflects our choice of a Canon within the Canon. And if my CwtC is different than your CwtC, then we are likely to find ourselves in serious disagreement — and maybe even disunity.

One blog post won’t solve what 2000 years hasn’t been able to overcome. In fact, if the Church is any indication, our tendency is to move, not toward unity, but away from it. Tragic, yes. Inevitable, no. But reality nonetheless.

But I can’t help but wonder: what if we truly read all of scripture through a common lens? What if we refused to let non-essentials divide us — even when they infringe upon tightly-held traditions?

In the past week, I’ve seen this in at least three ways.

First: I preached at a church this past Sunday that has two different services. The first included only hymns, accompanied only by a keyboard, and led by a male minister. The second included only choruses, where the loudest instrument was definitely the electric guitar, and where the service was led by a lay female member of the church. After the 2nd service, the minister of that church told me that there’s an older guy who has been attending the louder and more contemporary service. It’s not my style, the man says, but he does it to worship with someone who does attend that service. In other words, whether he realizes it or not, he is choosing Ephesians 4.1-6 as a part of his CwtC. (By the way: In this post, I’m going to reference a number of scriptures. I’m not going to take the time to link each one. I figure you can do that for passages you don’t know. Go to biblegateway.com or biblehub.com. Or, you could go old school and pull out your Bible.)

Second example: a couple of days ago, I had lunch with 3 ministers. I have known two of them for years, and they are from the same church tradition as I am. The third I barely know, and is a Baptist. These 3 guys meet together every Tuesday for lunch, and then to work on their Sunday messages. As we talked, one of the Christian Church guys joked that his Baptist friend has to filter all of their studying through his Calvinist filter. That’s ok, he went on to describe. I do the same thing in reverse when it comes from him. All of this was shared with humor and the collegiality that comes from guys who, regardless of their views on TULIP, recognize that their view on the Rose of Sharon matters more. So, while they may have differing interpretations of John 6.44, all 3 of them stand firmly on John 14.6.

Third example: last night I was working for a friend who has a floor-demolition business. We were working overnight at a Target, and after we finished the job, we headed to a Waffle House for a 1:30am snack. On the way, one of the guys in the truck asked: Where did Cain get his wife? In my answer, I tried to focus on the essentials: The point of the Adam & Eve story, along with the Cain & Abel, isn’t to help us identify Mrs. Cain. Instead, the essential elements of those stories are that Adam & Eve didn’t love and obey God, and Cain didn’t take care of his brother — and we have been having the same problem ever since. Simply put, the point of Adam & Eve and their children is to describe the human condition: our fractured relationship with God, and with each other.

Which makes Matthew 22.34-40 such an essential passage. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is, he answers by pointing us to a response that is the opposite of, and undoes, the sin of the first family. And this tells me that Matthew 22.34-40 is a CwtC. In fact, isn’t that what Jesus is doing? Isn’t he answering the question by giving his own CwtC?

Why can’t we stand firmly where Jesus stood? Why can’t we all agree that Matthew 22.34-40 is a CwtC. And for that matter, Romans 3.23-24. And 1 Corinthians 15.3-4. And Galatians 3.28. And Philippians 2.12-13. And Colossians 3.17. And Hebrews 4.14-16. And 1 John 4.7.

And these CwtCs are prefigured, just as Jesus said, in Leviticus 19.18. At the same time, He remembers what He made us from (Psalm 103.14). But even so, our calling is to rise above our “dustiness” — as Micah 6.8 so clearly calls us to do.

I have no doubt that, until Jesus returns, the Church will have controversies where conversations should instead be had. I also understand that deciding what is essential is not so simple, and may never be so. But perhaps a good start can be had if we choose to plant our flag on essential passages — ones that point us with simple clarity to God’s love for us, and our responding love for God, and for every single person in our lives.

What’s the best way to worship?

Some words just beg for definition. When we use words like good or government or, for that matter, good government, we have to say what we mean.

The same is true for worship. Often when we use this word, we are referring to the songs we sing at the beginning of a church service. We often specifically refer to that as the worship time. The person who leads this is called the worship minister.

But we also use the word worship to refer to the entire gathering of the church. So, we call it the worship service. We’ll often try to highlight this by saying things like, “We now continue our worship through our offering time….”

But the word worship has a broader meaning, too — as when we talk about living a life of worship. This idea encompasses not just Sunday, but everyday — where worship is an approach, a stance, a way to live.

Which of the 3 usages of the word worship is correct? Well …. all of them. They all describe an element of worship that is important.

But the place to start, I believe, is with the third definition. If worship is about how I live; if it involves how I work and how I treat my family; if it encompasses who I sleep with (or don’t), what I watch (or don’t), what I say (or don’t) — then such a life of worship leads naturally to a time of worship. If I am already living a life of adoration and submission (a pretty good definition of worship I picked up somewhere), then I will naturally gather with others who are doing the same. And we will spend some time once a week (or more), adoring and submitting, together.

In other words, living a life of worship daily leads to expressing that worship weekly. And when I come together with God’s people, the focus isn’t me, or my preferences. It’s God, and what God has done. And it’s us, and what God is doing in us, as we come together, united, in worship.

So, my challenge to me, and to you, is simply this: Focus on the third definition of worship. Seek to make that your daily reality. Then the first 2 will come into clearer focus.

 

One Church, Many Families

For 48 years, I’ve also been a part of One Church; because, if we take Jesus seriously, there is only one Church. Even so, that One Church has many different “congregations.” In my lifetime, I’ve have had the privilege of visiting, worshiping with, learning from, and speaking in countless churches.  Some have been in the midwest, some in the south, and some in the east. I have spoken in a church where you could do attendance on both your hands, and I have prayed over Iraqi refugees in a house church in the Middle East. I have preached in a church in Ukraine (through an interpreter, thankfully), and have spoken at churches in Kentucky that delayed their services because UK basketball was on. I preached one of my first sermons in a nursing home church, and have spoken at a church that kept a Christmas tree available on stage (because you never know when you’re going to need a Christmas tree).

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Mom & Dad with some of the folks from one of my “Ten”

Of all the churches I’ve been privileged to visit, I count no less than 10 that I have been a part of; ten churches that have been, for me, family. The first two I remember are an African-American congregation in the urban northeast and a largely white, blue-collar church not far from that one. (My father preached at both, so both churches were, in essence, my first church families.) I’ve been a part of a college church, and a nursing home church. I’ve called churches “home” that are urban, suburban, and rural. In other words, I’ve gotten just a taste of the wild and wonderful diversity that is the Church of Jesus Christ. We who follow Jesus are very diverse; but in him, we are one. And that unity is vital to our identity.

How do we get there? How do we live out the unity that Jesus prayed for, and yet is so elusive? Well, the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8 gives us some insight:

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.

Paul focuses on the generosity of the Macedonians, using it as an example for those in Corinth. But it’s not simply an example for giving, it’s also an example for living. Though the Gentile Macedonians had little, they begged for the opportunity to give to the needs of their Jewish counterparts in Jerusalem. But more than money, they were sharing the “fellowship of ministry” with them.

And in 2 Corinthians 8.5, Paul says they provided a wonderful model for the rest of us. Simply put, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to their church family in need.

This, my friends, is a perfect description of how unity happens. We give ourselves first to the Lord, and then to each other. In fact, not only is that a portrayal of how unity happens, it’s also a description of what faith looks like. To give ourselves to Jesus leads naturally to giving ourselves to each other.

In other words, unity isn’t complicated. It’s not something we finally get around to when we’ve studied for years and years. It’s what the Family of God simply IS. And DOES.

Are you united with Jesus? If so, you’re united (and working on unity) with God’s family, in all its wild and wonderful diversity.